Hal Draper


How to Defend Israel

A Political Program for Israeli Socialists

(July 1948)

From New International, Vol.14 No.5, July 1948, pp.133-137.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

An uneasy four-week truce has just been signed by both sides in Palestine. It may mean I he end of formal, declared hostilities: it may mean only a lull. If the title of this article were to be read as promising military advice, its relevance would therefore be in doubt.

But we shall concern ourselves exclusively with politics, not with military strategy: and whether the present truce is indefinitely continued or not, a state of war and imminence of war will continue to exist in Palestine. Abdullah, after agreeing to the truce, declares loudly that no permanent settlement is possible while the Jewish state exists: he may only be bargaining for a diminution of Israel’s borders and a restriction of its sovereignty, especially with regard to immigration, but over this there will be a struggle also. The consideration of a political program for the defense of the Israelis’ right to self-determination is equally important for either war or peace.

A new state has been set up. A people have declared that they want to live under their own government and determine their own national destiny. They have taken a blank check made out to the Right of Self-Determination and have signed their name to it: Israel. And they have sought to cash it in.

They have done this in the teeth of the opposition – direct, concealed or weaselly – of the imperialist capitals. And invading their defenses and threatening their independence came the reactionary onslaught of some of the most backward and reactionary kingships and dynasts of the world, the semi-feudal oppressors of the Arab people.

This reactionary invasion was launched with but one end in view – precisely to deprive the Israeli people of their right to self-determination.

Now the decision to set up a new national state in the world of today is no light matter. It may be a wise decision or a mistaken one, quite regardless of the fact that one has the right to make the decision. We have explained (especially in the columns of Labor Action) why, in our opinion, the decision was a mistaken one. This we did both before and after partition; and insofar as the question has significance now, after the accomplished fact, we consider that the course of events since partition has been proving that that opinion was correct.

We advocated a different course, a socialist plan to achieve a viable life for the peoples of Palestine, Jewish and Arab, and one which could not but meet with the opposition of the rulers of both peoples, the Zionist capitalists and the Arab effendis. We advocated that the workers, landworkers and peasants of both communities, joining their strength from below in common struggle, launch a united struggle for independence from their then common master, British imperialism; and that they fight for the creation of a free, democratic Palestine based on universal suffrage and a fully democratic constituent assembly.

The national antagonisms between Jew and Arab do not exist only at the tops – today more than ever is this true, unfortunately! – but they stem, not from the interests of the exploited masses, but from the interests of the top rulers. In such a joint struggle for national liberation, the already strong tendencies toward Arab-Jewish cooperation from below could flower, the fellaheen could be torn away from their ties with the Arab landlords and money masters, the Jewish workers could be pried loose from the chauvinistic aims of the Zionist leadership, and a united democratic Palestine achieved in which both peoples could live with full national rights assured. This in brief.

The Zionist leadership (at first) and the Arab cabal also opposed partition, because they too had an alternative. Their alternative was the complete conquest of Palestine and the subordination of the other people, by force of arms if necessary. This was their reactionary, chauvinistic alternative to partition – one that was at the opposite pole from ours. If the Zionists accepted the partition – including elements like the Hashomer Hatzair which had to make a flipflop to do so – it was because the main Jewish leaders looked upon it as a necessary installment toward this end.

There was no such reason for our disagreement with partition to come to an end with the UN decision. As compared with the program we advocated, partition represented a setback on the road to getting the Jewish workers and Arab peasants together in lighting unity. The creation of the Jewish state has indeed set up a state wall between them and has inflamed national feelings – or rather, has given the most reactionary elements in both camps the best opportunity to inflame them.

This is why we rejected partition as a solution for the Palestine problem. Nor has it solved the problem. It has only posed new conditions under which that solution must be sought.

That is why socialist thinking on this subject must start by understanding the distinction between (a) the Jews’ right to self-determination, and (b) the correctness or advisability of exercising this right to the point of separation under given conditions. We need only refer to the fact that, before and after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks’ program called for defense of Finland’s right to self-determination: before the revolution, Marxists in Finland advocated separation; after the revolution, the Communists in Finland advocated unity with Russia; but both before and after, there was no question in their minds but that the Finns had the right to separate if they so willed. Never under Lenin did the Soviets attempt to deprive them of that right by force of arms.

But in the present case we do not even have the complication of a workers’ state being involved. Far from it! The attack upon the Jews’ right to self-determination comes from a deeply reactionary social class – the Arab lords – whose reactionary aims in this case are not alleviated by the fact that they themselves suffer from the exploitation of British imperialism (at the same time that they cling to that imperialism in order to defend their privileges against their own people).

In this conflict, as socialists – that is, as the only thoroughgoing and consistent democrats, we not only support the Palestine Jews’ right to self-determination but draw the necessary conclusions from that position: for full recognition of the Jewish state by our own government; for lifting the embargo on arms to Israel; for defense of the Jewish state against the Arab invasion in the present circumstances.

But for us this is not the end of the question but only the beginning.

What, however, shall we say of self-styled socialists who do not make even this beginning? We are thinking of the Socialist Workers Party group (Cannonites), which finally had a few words to say about the Palestine situation in the May 31 issue of its Militant. They argue for supporting neither side. The result is pitiful and is worthwhile taking up only for the purposes of a Marxist lesson on how not to approach the question.

This lesson is simple enough: Marxists do not decide to support or oppose a war merely on the basis of whether they like or do not like the politics of the leaders of the state. Marxism has made this clear often enough: in supporting China’s war against Japan, the Spanish loyalist government’s war against Franco, the Negus’ war against Mussolini.

The question which we have asked, following Lenin’s method, was: What politics does this war flow from? War – so goes the platitude – is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. In the case of every concrete war, we try to analyze concretely the politics of which that war is the continuation. The Spanish loyalist government was an imperialist government; it exploited Morocco and oppressed the peasants (and shot them down when they revolted!). But when the Franco fascists sought to overthrow even this miserable government, we called for its defense – in our own way, by revolutionary means, and without giving the slightest political support to the bourgeois People’s Front leaders – because our analysis of the concreteness of events showed that the anti-Franco war did not flow from the loyalist government’s imperialist character but from the fascists’ attack upon its democratic base.

This was ABC once. But the Cannonites’ views seem to be founded solely upon an easy proof of the reactionary character of the Zionist leadership of the Jews: it “threatens to provoke new pogroms against the Jews and involve them in new calamities,” it “must inevitably become a tool of American imperialism,” it “solidifies the position of the reactionary Arab rulers and enables them to pervert the social struggle in their own countries into a communal struggle between the Arab and Jewish peoples.” All very true, and precisely the reason why defense of the Jews’ right to .self-determination cannot mean support to these Zionist leaders or their policies. It was just as true that Chiang Kai-shek’s war against Japan was used by him to try to gloss over and sidetrack the social struggle behind his own lines.

The Alternative to Defense

But don’t the Jewish people have “the right to self determination and statehood as other peoples?” Their full answer:

Yes – but even if we abstract this question from its aforementioned social reality, the fact remains they cannot carve out a state at the expense of the national rights of the Arab peoples. This is not self-determination, but conquest of another people’s territory.

A dishonest reply. (1) It means that the Jews have a right to self-determination but no right to exercise it. This does not make sense. One may, as we said, advise against its exercise in favor of a different course; but it is pure fakery to grant the right and in the same breath denounce its exercise as “conquest of another people’s territory.” (2) If the Jews have the right to self-determination, what territory can they “self-determine themselves” in without infringing upon the national rights of the Arab people? Is there any? Obviously none, it appears from the argument. What then does the “Yes” mean?

The only honest answer would be to deny that the Jews have any right to self-determination in Palestine – and to explain why they thus differ from other peoples. The SWP cannot do the latter and so they wisely, if hypocritically, refrain from asserting the former.

If the setting up of the Jewish state was “conquest of another people’s territory” and an attack on the “national rights” of the Arab peoples, there can be only one conclusion: it is the Arab peoples, then, who have the right to defend themselves against this unprovoked aggression. How can this conclusion be avoided? Certainly not by arguing that the leaders of these (attacked) Arab peoples are no-goods! Yet this is exactly how our subjects evade the responsibility of coming out four-square for the Arab invasion:

They [the Arab rulers), are, by their anti-Jewish war, [what? isn’t it a war of defense against an unprovoked attempt at conquest? – H.D.] trying to divert the struggle against imperialism, and utilizing the aspirations of the Arab masses for national freedom, to smother the social opposition to their tyrannical rule.

Of course, of course – but in a war of defense against conquest by “tools of American imperialism,” it would be the duty of socialists to fight the Arab rulers by demanding, not merely prosecution of the war, but consistent, uncompromising prosecution of the war ... opposition to a rotten compromise with the Israelis, for example, opposition to any cessation of the conflict short of complete reconquest of the whole territory of Palestine, war to the bitter end ... just as our Chinese comrades advocated, as against the compromising bourgeois leaders, in the war against Japan.

Our subjects shrink from this conclusion, for unaccountable reasons. This, however, is the only consistent alternative to our own consistent policy.

Defense of Israel, then. But, we said, this is not the end of the question but only its beginning.

Against whom must the Jews defend themselves?

The Arab Legion, of course. But since even the Zionist leaders know that, we make bold to point out that there is a second enemy.

In the eyes of partisans of freedom, what is going on in Palestine is a death struggle between a people fighting for their rights and a reactionary invader. But this struggle is taking place on a stage where the preliminaries of the Third World War are being acted out. Bending over the scene are the giants of world imperialism – the Big Three – themselves locked in battle (without guns) for the really big stakes of power.

And if we look at the same scene through their imperialist eyes, we see in Palestine: two dogs snapping and tearing at each other for a miserable bone. They sic on now one, now the other; bet on the outcome; nudge their favorites – and wait only for one thing: to be the one to carry off the stakes. Through their eyes there is no aura of democratic or national rights (and certainly not of humanitarianism) over the scene, any more than in a cockfight.

And ill will it be for Israel if, by dint of blood and sacrifice and heroic toil, they beat back the Arab invader only to fall over on the other side into the net of imperialism!

Defense Against the Big Three

Now we Marxists are notoriously cynical about the motives and designs of all the capitalist and imperialist governments. But the role that Britain, specifically Laborite Britain, has been playing makes cynicism pale. The Labor Party, which up to its assumption of power was denouncing the British government for its “betrayal” of the Jews of Palestine, has taken over the filthy, oil-reeking job of propping up the Abdullahs and Arab landlord-princes of the Middle East against the Jewish state.

Why? Because Ernie Bevin is a scoundrel? Far from it. Because the “socialist” Laborites, after one day in office, discovered that “justice to the Jews” conflicted with their higher loyalty – loyalty to the interests of British imperialism, of which they are the current caretakers.

We cynical Marxists have been a bit less shocked than the Zionist leaders. We never looked to British imperialism to give justice to the Middle East, as they did. We never promised to be good British cat’s paws if only they granted a Jewish homeland, as did the Zionist leaders for decades, crawling on their bellies before Whitehall. We were never taken in by the fish story about the British Labor Party building a socialist England. “Perfidious Albion” is perfidious only to those who have been taken in by it: by its own lights, which have nothing to do with any ideals of freedom or justice, its leaders (Conservative or Laborite) have been consistently loyal and faithful servitors of the real rulers of England, the London City.

We knew that the coming of Bevin meant only a different signature under British imperialism, and said so in advance. Now a lot of other people have found it out too. How much more must the rank-and-file Zionists find out, how many more disappointments with “friends of the Jewish people” must they go through before they too understand and say:

No interference from the imperialists in Palestine, singly or collectively in the UN!

We can expect nothing from these Greeks bearing gifts – not even from the “fair” proposal of an embargo on both sides. This basis for the present truce, presented by the British, was rightly denounced by the Israeli leaders when first proposed. How equitable it is to embargo both sides with even-handed impartiality! – after the Arabs had stockpiled British arms and equipment with feverish haste for months, while the Israelis were still scurrying around for rifles and mortars. How equitable it is to forbid the importation of men for both sides! – in a situation where men for Israel must come through the British blockade, while men for the Arab Legion need only cross over the land routes from the neighboring states. One might as well propose another perfectly impartial agreement, evenly applied to both sides – a proposal, for example, that both sides immediately stop worshipping Allah ...

We say to the imperialists: Lift the embargo! Get out of the lives of the Middle East peoples! Keep hands off! The Jewish and Arab peoples’ road to fraternity may be a hard one, but you will intervene only to put both in your pocket!

And that must go for all of them. The British-proposed truce basis, so roundly denounced by the Jews before accepting it, came after long consultations with Lewis Douglas, US ambassador to Britain, and was accepted (not too demonstratively) by the US. Truman, unlike Bevin, recognized the new state – bringing fulsome tributes from Zionist wheelhorses like Abba Hillel Silver – but what stopped him from immediately lifting the embargo on arms for the defense of this state whose existence he “recognized”?

“Perfidious Albion,” indeed! The British policy at least has been consistent with itself. Perfidious Washington has meanwhile been trying to carry water on both shoulders.

No Dependence on US Imperialism

How many illusions can a Zionist retain? We are thinking of the fairly large number of Jewish socialists who consider themselves even “left-wing” Zionists. Can one give up illusions about “Socialist” Britain and retain the idea that Wall Street’s government has any other intention except that of meddling in the situation in order to snare Palestine in its own net?

Or that Russia, which puts Zionists in slave camps, and whose satellites have not refrained from running guns to the Arab legions, has any other interest except to put Palestine under its own heel?

The truth is that all of the imperialist Big Three are playing for the Palestine stakes. Britain is betting on the Arabs. Russia, it would seem at the moment, is mainly wooing the Jews, at least in the diplomatic channels. The United States relies on a force without nationality, neither Arab nor Jewish nor even American – the force of gold. And it expects that whoever wins is going to be gathered into its golden fold and anointed with oil.

To all those disillusioned Zionists who are now parboiling over the perfidy of “Socialist” Britain: not a particle more trust in Wall Street! We want no Greeks bearing gifts from Washington either.

For Israel to become the cat’s paw, the outpost, for any of the Big Three means its doom for any really independent existence. It will then be assigned to play the role in the Middle East that Czechoslovakia played in Eastern Europe between the First and Second World Wars. And if the Middle East is allowed to remain the playground of imperialism up to the Third World War, then it may well be, as was written, that Armageddon will be in Palestine.

If not to the big powers, where then shall Israel turn for succor? Shall it rely only on its own arms? Can it rely only on the military forces of the Haganah, while the Arabs are supported by their secondhand ally, Britain? Is its own military defense enough?

Far be it from us to pooh-pooh the fact that wars are won with guns and cannon and aircraft and the independence of states defended by armed force. Wars are won with guns and cannon – but not all wars are won only with guns and cannon.

There was a war (in 1919 and the following years) waged by a people seeking to defend their independence, and it was fought with muskets against machine guns and swords against tanks and, almost, popguns against airplanes. That was the war fought by revolutionary Russia against the Allied intervention after the First World War – and they won. Because they had another weapon, and used it.

There was another war (in 1936-38) fought, to be sure, with guns and cannon but against superior force. That was the war of the Spanish loyalist government against Franco. That war was lost. They too had another weapon, and did not use it.

The Spanish government relied only on bullets and bravery. Powerful weapons! But at hand was a greater one – the possibility of exploding an arsenal of weapons behind Franco’s own lines. The loyalist government, restrained by the combine of bourgeois politicians and Stalin’s counter-revolutionaries, refused to give its freedom to Morocco – and the Moors remained with Franco to the end. They refused to tell the peasants to take the land – and behind Franco’s lines the peasants remained mainly quiet and passive. Because, much as they hated Franco, they were given no cause for great joy in a loyalist victory.

Facing the enemy on fourteen fronts and almost without an army, the Russian Revolution turned back the combined assault of the military powers of the world – because they demonstrated in action to the people and to the soldiers of both side’s that their victory had a social meaning.

Road to Lasting Victory

I mention this to show that there is something else to be relied on besides guns and cannon and instead of a sellout for imperialist aid. What is that weapon in Palestine?

The road to a LASTING victory in Palestine is for the Israelis to wage the war as a war against the Arab landlords and dynasts and NOT as a war against the Arab people. And this not in tender expressions of sympathy and tolerance but in demonstrated deeds.

What does that mean concretely? And what is meant by a lasting victory?

One has to be blind not to see that the problems of the Palestine Jews will not be solved even if the Arab legions are beaten back by superior force or heroism.

The bitter harbinger of what may be a hollow victory, no matter how enthusiastically hailed, was visible in the reports from Haifa. Here was an Arab population which for years had lived in harmony with their Jewish neighbors. Even in the worst pogrom days of the past two decades, this population had not taken part in attacks on their Jewish brothers. This Arab population moved out en masse when the Jews recently captured the city – like the Finnish workers fleeing their homes before the advancing Russian army in 1940.

The present situation in Palestine – the fruit of partition and the end product of Zionist policy toward the Arabs – can only continue to inflame national hostility and chauvinism on both sides. On the one hand, there is the disgraceful portent of the Deir Yassin massacre of Arab women and children by the Irgun, unpunished by the official Israeli leadership and therefore, in the eyes of the Arabs, endorsed. On the other hand, there is the godsent opportunity for the effendis to inflame the antagonism of the mass of Arab peasantry toward the Jews as such.

And as this situation is created, we must remember:

Under these conditions, with all its economic life intertwined with its Arab neighbors’, with its supply lines and commercial routes interpenetrating, with its national life economically dependent and helpless – what can be the future of a splinter country separated from the world on all sides and surrounded by a wall of hatred?

Only a chronic nightmare existence, a new horror of the twentieth century, a state-wide ghetto, a death trap for the Jews!

This is the direction in which the present rightist bourgeois government of Israel is heading. And along these lines, its only avenue of escape – no, not escape, but its only possibility of even alleviating that nightmare is complete capitulation to one of the predatory imperialisms; to become its outpost in the Middle East, the harlot Jerusalem.

This is not a chimera conjured up. This is a reality of Israel’s adventure into statehood. From these vicious alternatives of destruction, imperialist overlordship or permanent nightmare in a Balkanized Middle East, the Israeli people can escape only by relying on the only other force that they can seek to lean on: the mass of Arab workers and peasants who are exploited and oppressed by the very same rulers who invade Palestine.

Program for Israeli Socialists

The key is right at hand. It is the 30-40 per cent of Israel which is now Arab. Israel’s future will be determined in the first place by how it acts toward them. It is not enough to “leave them be.” The Israelis must demonstrate that they seek the alliance of the Arab masses, that they are carrying on a social war – not Jew against Arab, but a war of classes.

It must seek to integrate the Arabs into the country on a completely equal basis with the Jews:

  1. An end to the Jim-Crow trade unions by which those Arab workers who are organized are kept in “parallel” unions.
  2. Stamp out the policy of kibbush avoda – the ousting of Arab labor – in every sphere.
  3. Stamp out the policy of boycotting Arab goods.
  4. An end to every other form of economic nationalism.
  5. Organize the state as the home of both peoples with equal national status: in schools, in the government, in the use and teaching of both languages, in every aspect of national life.
  6. State aid to the Arab peasants, as to the Jewish colonists.
  7. Distribution to the Arab peasants of all lands vacated by Arab landlords and under Israeli control.
  8. The formation of a bi-national army and police. This outcome can be made possible by the successful prosecution of the other steps.

Such a program, we are perfectly aware, means a complete overturn of the policy of the Jewish leaders. But only such a program, of which the above points represent not the whole but a beginning and a token, can transform the war of defense into a social war, a war with the dynamic power to tear apart the national unity behind the Arab rulers’ legions. Only such a program can prepare for the reunification of the splintered land into a community where Jew and Arab can live in fraternity.

Such a reunited state cannot come about while the Arab effendi, landlord and militarist remains in control of his Arab vassal. It cannot come about while Zionist nationalism rules Israel. It can come about only if the working masses of both peoples unite, from below, and tear themselves away from their own ruling classes. The working-class movement among the Jews is powerful; the majority of it calls itself socialist, many even left-wing socialist. Here is the only consistent socialist program for a reunited Palestine.

This is the program for transforming the war into a revolutionary war against the Arab feudal masters – and striking down the perpetrators of Deir Yassin massacres who call for Jewish expansionism against the Arab people. It has to be fought for against the present leaders of Israel, dominated by the Jewish capitalist class and trailed by the bourgeois labor leaders of the Histadrut.

It demands the fight for a workers’ government in Israel, as the vanguard of the future United Socialist States of the Middle East.

Jews here in America, particularly those in the socialist Zionist organizations, can have more to say about realizing and aiding such a program than any others, outside of Israel itself. Out of the night of national hatred in Palestine, from the ranks of the working class there, there can arise a real Zion – a Middle East in which Jew and Arab build together a workers’ world without exploitation and oppression.


Last updated on 6.8.2005